Dance video

Viral dance video in Egypt fuels debate on women’s rights

CAIRO: A video of an Egyptian mother of three dancing that went viral online, prompting her husband to divorce her and her employers to fire her, has reignited fierce debates over women’s rights.
The brief mobile phone video of Aya Youssef, a 30-year-old schoolteacher, shows her dressed in a headscarf, trousers and a long-sleeved top as she dances alongside colleagues, smiling as enjoying a river cruise on the Nile.
But the video, which has been widely shared on social media since it was posted earlier this month, has divided opinion.
Some critics accuse her of violating the conservative values ​​of a predominantly Muslim society, while others are firmly in solidarity with her.
In recent years, Egypt has witnessed several cases in which women have been the subject of smear campaigns on social media, prompting angry demands that those responsible be held accountable.
It comes as rights groups warn of a growing crackdown on freedom in the increasingly conservative North African nation since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took office in 2014.
Youssef, in a recent interview with a private TV channel, said she was “happy” during the trip and her movements were “spontaneous”.
Other colleagues danced alongside him on the boat in the sun, some waving their hands in the air. “We were all dancing,” she said.
But after the video was shared online, some of those who watched it provided scathing comments about what they considered “inappropriate” behavior.
Twitter user Jihad al-Qalyubi said the teacher’s actions were “shameful”.
Another, Ahmed al-Beheiry, said he “couldn’t imagine how a married woman would dance in that obscene way”.
But – in a country where 90% of women aged 18 to 39 said they had been stalked in 2019, according to a survey by the Arab Barometer research network – others lent their support.
After the video went viral, Egypt’s Ministry of Education in the Dakahlia region – northeast of Cairo – referred the teacher to a disciplinary committee, where she was fired from her job in the city of Mansoura.
Amid a subsequent outcry, she was reinstated this week.
Nihad Abu al-Qumsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, came to the teacher’s defense and offered her a job.
“We will ask the court what the correct dance rules are – so that all women follow the correct rules if they dance at their brother’s or son’s weddings, or at birthday parties,” Qumsan said sarcastically.
The fact that Youssef’s husband also divorced after watching the video prompted an angry reaction from popular Egyptian actress Sumaya al-Khashab, saying it showed a double standard.
“Why don’t men take back their wives? Khashab asked.
“There are so many women who stand by their men even when they go to jail, for example, or who don’t abandon their husbands when their conditions deteriorate,” she added.
Youssef told Egyptian newspaper Al-Watan that she did not know who posted the video online, but had vowed to sue those who “defamed and destroyed her house”.
This is not the first case of online shaming to have sparked anger in Egypt.
Two young men were arrested this week after a 17-year-old schoolgirl took her own life last month.
She swallowed poison after being blackmailed with digitally altered photos after apparently refusing to have an affair with them.
And in July 2021, a Cairo court sentenced two women to six and 10 years in prison for “undermining public morals” after posting videos on social media channel TikTok.
They were among a dozen social media “influencers” arrested in 2020 for “undermining societal values” in Egypt.
Opinions change; Egypt has long been considered the birthplace of belly dancing, but several belly dancers and pop singers have been targeted in recent years for content online deemed too racy or suggestive.
Egypt has seen its community of local dancers dwindle, largely due to the growing prominence of the profession as the country has become more conservative over the past half-century – and a growing crackdown on freedoms.